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Wednesday, 07 December 2011 13:59

Commissioners bounce subdivision regs back to Jackson planning board

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Jackson County’s subdivision ordinance is destined for more tweaking by the planning board.

The planning board spent several months revising the county’s four-year-old subdivision ordinance before sending the recommended changes along to county commissioners for approval this week. Commissioners promptly sent the revised ordinance back to the planning board for more review, but not before some speakers expressed their vehement displeasure with the proposed changes. Others said during a public hearing that they, however, believed commissioners were on the right track to “streamline” the rules.

Not all the commissioners are convinced the ordinance needs changing.

“This puts the developer first, and the potential homeowner and environment second,” Commissioner Joe Cowan said, adding that he hated “to see this watered down with one fell swoop.”

While some of the proposed changes are more favorable to developers, others are more strict. Other changes are aimed at simplifying the language, such as stipulating that road building follows state standards instead of dictating those standards verbatim, as done in the current ordinance. Cullowhee resident Roy Osborn said some of the changes make sense but cautioned that he believes Planner Gerald Green’s expressed desire to “balance the needs of developers, future subdivision property owners, the environment and the citizens of Jackson County” is mistaken in its emphasis: leave out the developers, Osborn said, and the planner’s got it about right.

“This structure better prioritizes ‘needs’ from the global to the individual perspective,” he said.

Additionally, Osborn suggested adding language requiring engineers and land surveyors to provide “rigorous cost estimates” of surety bond amounts. This, he said, would help ensure that planned roads are completed if the developer defaults. He also said that if initially approved design thresholds are exceeded, such as increased slope or lessened roadway width, then a “certified roadway design professional” should be involved in a variance review.

But, Roger Clapp of the Watershed Association of the Tuckasegee River said with just a few adjustments, he could support the proposed ordinance changes.

“It is rural mountain roads that supply mud to the streams, first and foremost,” Clapp told commissioners.

And, in fact, he said, the ordinance changes proposed by Green and the planning board would largely help the environment. They would do that by reducing the footprints of roads — which would only have to be 14-feet wide instead of 18 feet.

“A smaller footprint means less construction work, thus it’s cheaper. And also less impact, which is good for the environment,” Clapp said.

On the other hand, Clapp said his conservation group would like to see the maximum slope for roads stay at 18 instead of 20 percent and an added stipulation for road maintenance agreements for small subdivisions.

“With that said, the Watershed Authority supports the bill because it does provide a step forward in environmental protection,” Clapp said.

Commissioners offered little input on the changes, but Commissioner Chairman Jack Debnam questioned why the county planner is the only one with authority to enforce the regulations and suggested giving additional county staff that authority as well.

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